You could say that Tim Seiber ’04 knows the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies experience from every perspective.
Seiber entered the Johnston program as a student in 2000, and his emphasis, titled “Reading the Social: Political Philosophy and Cultural Studies,” combined humanities, social theory, and visual arts. Following a master’s degree and doctorate at University of California, Irvine, in 2010 he became an assistant professor of science and media studies at the University of Redlands. When he started as a student, there were no full-time faculty in the Johnston Center. Since then, it has evolved to hire three full-time faculty: Seiber, Professor of Film Studies Kelly Hankin, and Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities Julie Townsend. The trio rotates the directorship every five years.
In July, Seiber succeeded Townsend as director; he talks to the Bulldog Blog about his plans and mentorship of students in these challenging times.
What are you most excited about as Johnston’s newest director?
For the first time ever in the history of Johnston, and in the history of the University, there are four people who have held this position on campus: Provost Kathy Ogren, Professor Kelly Hankin, Professor Julie Townsend, and me. There's so much institutional knowledge from my predecessors who are still here to support the Center day in and day out. I get to inherit a really stable, healthy place following a long period of strong feminist leadership, and follow through on some of the changes they have been initiating. I have time to think big and work hard.
What are some of your goals as a new director?
My number one goal is to get back to campus.
Johnston is a living and learning community, so a lot of the ways that teaching and learning happens aren't really based in the classroom. We have community meetings at the Holt lobby, and events—from parties to protests—on the front lawn. My favorite things include encountering students on the way to my office and being asked random questions. That's an opportunity for me to listen, teach, and be in dialogue with my students. All that takes place physically, within our buildings. Right now, I'm feeling the loss of that part of our education. While I’m excited to simulate as much of it as we can online, I’m eager to work with the University to figure out how to open our living-learning spaces, because that’s so much of the value of Johnston. Within the spontaneous discussions, we have new attitudes and ideas constantly emerging.
Another specific goal for me is to make the Holt building completely American Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. Through donor assistance from alumni and friends who have contributed to the Building Johnston Community Endowment, we have already remodeled the first floor of Holt with ADA-accessible doors. Eventually, we want to make the entire first floor accessible to students, faculty, or staff with mobility issues by remodeling the bathroom.
How are you looking to put your own imprint on the Center?
So many of our traditions were set up in 1969. We're interested in maintaining our traditions and practices, which involve our orientation process, way of governing the Center through community meetings, and work with students to craft their own individualized education. It still works for a lot of students, but there are others for whom those traditions run against the need to, for example, have a job, take care of their families, or commute in order to make a Redlands education affordable. The Center has been adaptive to that reality over the past 10 years, and we’re updating the processes and practices for the reality of a 21st-century student.
We have also started supporting students who are food and housing insecure through internships over the summer, and we're moving all of our records online.
I’m also planning to spend a good amount of my time identifying co-collaborators to contact grant agencies and alumni to create a permanent fund to support programs that will make Johnston accessible to any student who wants this kind of dynamic and transformative education.
Johnston is so innovative. I want to hear about the ways you’re opening a school year during a pandemic.
We’re using various online tools for meetings and activities to keep a sense of community going, so students don't feel isolated as learners. During orientation week, we continued our welcome circle for the incoming first-year students, but online with a system organizing people's comments so it's not confusing. We hosted a virtual open mic night virtually, so students can meet each other and see each other's talents, even though they might not physically be in the same space. Those are just two examples about how we're dealing with COVID-related challenges.
Each year, we renew our commitment to having the conversations that deal with matters of race, politics, personal experience, and how we communicate with one another. We’re committed to empowering our students, and we will figure out how to do it online one way or another.
When we come back in person, we’ll also figure out how to establish community standards so we can all reengage in a way that keeps us healthy. Those are some of our challenges for now—taking over a leadership position in the middle of a pandemic means that most of my thinking has been about the pandemic! As soon as school opens up, we will look more to long-term plans.
Is the Center doing anything special for the 2020 election?
For many of our students, this will be the first election in which they are eligible to vote. We will support all initiatives through various groups on campus to help students register on the voter rolls. In addition, Kelly is teaching a class called Election Narratives as part of our curriculum this semester. Students will study the world around them while living the experience. I hope—and I know—this seminar will help our students think in more nuanced ways about elections.
What are you most looking forward to during your tenure?
In my time as Johnston director, it will be my responsibility to host our 55th Renewal. I'm excited about that because it will reflect the changes in our student population. We have more community college transfers, ethnically diverse students, and higher numbers of international students. As our student population transforms, I’m looking forward to incorporating their ideas into the operations of the Center and putting our alumni in contact with our student body to make those connections across generations. I look forward to facilitating that engagement.
Learn more about the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies.